A Coral Springs man tried to stay calm while aboard a Delta flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale that made an emergency landing in Tampa.
Coral Springs resident Brandon Tomlinson knows the eerie free-fall feeling you experience when you instantly plummet from the sky on a roller coaster.
There is no force pushing you as you drop from the clouds, essentially weightless. Your body can’t grasp the speed but it can feel the dizzying change in velocity, complete with a helpless, sinking feeling in your stomach.
But the visual and audio cues you get from a roller coaster weren’t the same ones Tomlinson had last Wednesday afternoon when his Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale dropped some 29,000 feet in eight-plus minutes.
Traveling with his mother and 2-year-old son Parker, Tomlinson said the terror happened without warning.
The first sign came when “they had four (oxygen) masks fall out,” as the plane began its descent he recalled.
“I made sure I got my mask on first. My son was fighting me, as you can imagine. He unbuckled my seat belt. I had to put it back on. Then get the mask on his face. I had to make sure my mom was OK because she had started to hyperventilate. We’re sitting there like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is nuts. This is really happening.’ I’m trying to hold on to Parker. He didn’t know any better, I just gripped him as tight as I could as we were descending.”
Tomlinson recounts the pilot of the Boeing 767-300 on the intercom stating that there was a pressurization issue they were dealing with and that he needed to dive as fast as he could to get below the 10,000-foot mark.
The next few words were not comforting:
“We got a lot of things going on up here right now,” the pilot said. “I will be back with you.”
It was at this moment he saw a flight attendant out the corner of his eye. He noticed her facial expression signaling that this wasn’t a drill.
“I thought ‘Whoa!’ This is happening,” Tomlinson said.
“You could feel your stomach drop, like you were on a roller coaster, at least I did diving that fast. It felt like an eternity. It was about 60 to 90 seconds when they had all this going on. People started opening their side windows, that’s when you saw we were over a body of water. I remember thinking we were either over Jacksonville or Tampa.”
During the rapid descent, the pilot came back on and said, “Hey! We’re being diverted, we are not landing in Fort Lauderdale. That is not going to happen. We’re going to land in Tampa.”
Tomlinson said it happened so fast, but the drop was agonizing.
“You didn’t hear anything, smell anything, and see anything,” he said. “It was out of nowhere. Then oxygen masks dropped in front of you and all of a sudden you started hearing the engines really start to roar. There was this siren sound, I don’t know what that was. I think it was the engines because they were really screaming. It got extremely loud in the cabin.
“I decided to text my wife and my dad, ‘I love you,’” he said. “I looked at my mom and told her, ‘I love you.’
“My head was clear, I know this sounds morbid, but... I prepared myself. I’ve never had this happen. I figured, this is how it’s going to end, I’m going to make peace with it. I’m going to send these messages out. I took photos.
“If they found my phone they would see what happened the last few minutes, what was going on. I just figured, this is it. It was one of those things where I hope I never have to go through again.”
But after eight terror-filled minutes of panic, a view of Tampa’s airport came into sight.
“We felt at ease once we knew we were landing and you could see the airport,” Tomlinson recalled. “You feel like, ‘We’re going to make this. We’re going to survive.’
“They got us on the ground. It was incredible the way the flight crew handled it. They were completely professional.”
The carrier said flight 2353 “diverted to Tampa out of an abundance of caution and landed without incident following a cabin pressurization irregularity en route.”
The Federal Aviation Administration said pilots declared an emergency for the plane. Delta called it a “controlled descent.”
According to Flightaware.com, the plane descended from 39,000 feet at 4:34 p.m. to 9,975 feet at 4:42 p.m.
Tomlinson’s day had started in Greensboro, N.C., where his family was visiting his aunt. And it got much longer. Once Delta flight 2353 landed, there was still one more hurdle - but it was a matter of inconvenience and not life-and-death.
“Delta didn’t have a contract with anyone at Tampa,” Tomlinson said. “The only airliner that flew from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale directly was Southwest. You could do that, but they didn’t have a ticket exchange. They couldn’t guarantee anything. Otherwise it was a Greyhound bus. I wasn’t going to put my son through sitting on a Greyhound bus. That sounded awful. We stayed at the Marriott at Tampa. Got a rental car the next day. We got home and since then it’s been crazy.”
The plane will remain out of service as Delta works to determine what caused the malfunction. The airline released this statement:
“We apologize to our customers on flight 2353 from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale, which diverted to Tampa out of an abundance of caution and landed without incident following a cabin pressurization irregularity en route.”
But for Tomlinson, it wasn’t that routine. After this experience, Tomlinson says it will be a while before he flies again.
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.